My father is an electrical engineer. He’s quite competent at his job — been doing it for a long time. I can recall conversations I had with him, when I was in high school and younger, where we’d get talking and he would start explaining things about electricity and his job to me. I didn’t get all of it. In fact, I can recall at least a few times where it went clean over my head. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate what he was trying to tell me, or that I wasn’t glad he took the time to sit and talk with me; it’s just that I wasn’t ready at that time to absorb all of it, or even some of it. Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you for wanting to tell me. A lot of it makes more sense now. Sometimes just sitting and talking can be good, even if a person doesn’t get everything out of it he could.
The reason I thought of this was an occasion where I did the same thing the other day, with one of my own offspring. We were all hanging out on my day off; I was cleaning the kitchen, the girls were coloring or looking at books, the baby was sleeping, Christi was doing something — we were all just kind of around and quiet. I’d put on Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which is a great album, and I stopped to ask Adah if she liked it. She said yeah, and then said she’d heard him mention snow. I said, “Yes, the singer did; in fact, Justin Vernon, that’s his name, he moved into a log cabin in northern Wisconsin and spent all winter by himself, writing songs, and this is what he came up with. Pretty neat, huh?” Then I left off my happy tirade to draw breath, and realized Adah had gone back to her coloring about a minute and a half ago. It was then that I realized I had done it, too: I’d dumped a bucket of facts over her head when all that was really needed was a cup of conversation. My topic was music, but the outcome was the same. It made me shake my head at myself, and maybe feel a little embarrassment. (Some refer to that urge to over-explain as ‘mansplaining’…you can see how they’d coin such a word.)
Such moments are not without their redeeming value, however. They teach us that knowledge has value, even knowledge we don’t need right this second, even knowledge we don’t grasp at the time. Such moments teach us that even if we fall short of assimilating what we’re told today, in the future we might need that information, and at that time we’ll remember and be helped — because someone took the time to tell us something that happened to be beyond our grasp back then.
Thomas saith unto Him, Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?
— St. John 14:5
Apply this to Christian doctrine, and you re-discover a comforting truth. Every year, at least a few times during catechism instruction, I’m tempted to yank my hair out in despair and dejection, just at the sheer amount of doctrine our children need to know, even to grasp the most elementary basics. I’m not talking seminary-level instruction here — it’s the Small Catechism, folks. Seems pretty simple, right? Wrong. There’s always so much to teach, so much to learn, even out of the Small Catechism, and so little time, and I often tell my students that. At such times I am consoled that even if they don’t understand now, they may one day. The Spirit will keep the Son’s promise by calling to mind everything He said to us in the days of His flesh on earth (John 14:26). He would teach and instruct Jesus’ followers, and through that ongoing teaching they would be guided by God in their daily lives. Even if they don’t get it all right now, even if their attention is less than rapt some days, they are still hearing the Word which is powerful. That Word can and does routinely work miracles, so much so that we scarcely notice sometimes. Understanding, logical comprehension, is not required in all parts — but faith is. A living and active trust in Christ as your own Savior, the Lamb of God given for you, teaches far more than any voluminous set of facts ever could. Even if your children don’t grasp everything right now, don’t worry — they have time to grow. They will find out the value of what they have been taught, if they do not stray from it.
I’m glad my father explained things to me I still don’t understand. It shows love, and a care that estimates that one day such things may be useful. Never worry about stretching someone, giving them more than you think they can handle on occasion — give them a chance, and they just may surprise and shock you. Even if they don’t understand it all right away.
Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done.5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments…
— Psalm 78:1-7